News from all over the world is a mellow and sweet modern western, if more than a little disjointed.
Based on the novel of the same name by Paulette Jiles News from all over the world is essentially an update of the classic Western template, exemplified by The seekers. Captain Jefferson Kyle Kidd is a Civil War veteran who makes a living traveling the southern United States reading the news in front of the crowds. While traveling, Kidd comes across a wagon that has been destroyed. Its driver was killed and its only occupant – a young girl – abandoned.
Kidd realizes that the young girl’s name is Johanna. She was taken by her parents when she was very young and raised by the Kiowa tribe. She was recently rescued and the army is trying to send her back to her last surviving relatives. Of course, with her escort killed and Union forces dispersed to tackle the reconstruction, Kidd is tasked with looking after the young woman and taking her across the nation to reunite her with her mother’s extended family .
There is a surprising and lovable warmth News from all over the worldwhich is largely due to Tom Hanks playing the lead role. In a way, this seems like the movie’s most telling update to that classic Western formula that replaces John Wayne’s true strength with Tom Hanks’ Hanksian propriety. News from all over the world is maybe a bit too episodic and uneven for your own good, and at times feels like a mainstream counterpart to something like that The sisters brothersbut it works mainly thanks to the key appearances of Tom Hanks and his co-star Helena Zengel.
News from all over the world It is hardly subtle to be a broad metaphor for America today. In fact, Kidd’s profession practically invites comparison with the current moment when so much of the news is just misinformation spread on social media telling people what to hear. It’s hard not to crave the certainty of a character like Captain Jefferson Kyle Kidd (or even Tom Hanks), see the truth, and borrow a sentence from a previous Hanks vehicle. “Just the facts.”
Indeed, News from all over the world presents a shared vision of America. The residents of the southern states resent the Union for enforcing its cultural values and insisting that the losers of the civil war renounce slavery and accept their defeat. There are mercenaries and opportunists who prevail after this conflict, hoping to make a quick profit from the slaughter. There are points where this becomes particularly persistent, as Kidd is forced to read propaganda being promoted by a tinpot despot in one particularly grotesque corner of the nation.
However, News from all over the world works best when it largely avoids that persistent comment and focuses more on the journey Kidd and Johanna take across the country. News from all over the world is a pretty conventional western in terms of costuming and production design. However, director Paul Greengrass and cinematographer Dariusz Wolski choose to shoot the film with handheld cameras to give the film a sense of intimacy that contrasts with more traditional and formal westerns.
Indeed, News from all over the world is refreshing in its portrayal of life on the edge. Production designer David Crank builds a world that is recognizable and archetypically Western, but also more naturalistic than the environment in which these stories normally unfold. The cities visited by Kidd seem to have no roots yet, primitive constructions protruding from the landscape like alien invaders. River banks are not clearly delineated, the water runs into the mud and drowns the weeds, as if the boundaries of this world have yet to be determined.
While the use of hand photography can be confusing and confusing at times, it gives the film a naturalistic look that helps highlight the really heightened sequences. There are a number of striking recordings that look out over a landscape that is still relatively untouched by human hands. Herds of cattle pour into the cities like a force of nature, while buffalo roam freely on the plains. These aerial photographs suggest another world and can be easily integrated into the grounded sequences, which were recorded in close-up with a camera that seems to wobble in the wind.
Furthermore, the emphasis on naturalism and realism allows Greengrass to steer the film in more abstract directions, which provides a sharper contrast to the more surreal imagery. At some point, Kidd and Johanna drift into a camp where the locals harvested the buffalo. It’s like something out of a feverish dream, as the carcasses are piled high and the trains are laden with bones from lamplight that barely penetrates the industrial haze. It’s a waking nightmare, reminiscent of the industrialized horrors that would follow into the 20th century.
These sequences confer News from all over the world an enchanting and lyrical quality. At several points in the film, Kidd and Johanna encounter Native Americans. However, these sequences are often fuzzy and obscured, as if two worlds were briefly coordinated before they inevitably diverge. Johanna screams across a raging brook to silhouettes moving in the night and asks them to take them with her. Later, Kidd spots another group through the haze of a sandstorm. In both cases, these characters move in the opposite direction and disappear into the story.
While News from all over the world, Kidd and Johanna argue about the future. Kidd argues that the settlers build their worlds in straight lines and always go forward; Roads, rivers, roads, railroad lines. This is the illusion of progress. There is only the future. What would the myth of the limit be but the belief in the idea of forward? In contrast, Johanna argues that the Kiowa taught her that the world is a circle, that forwards and forwards are connected. “Go forward,” She explains, “you have to remember.”
This is the tragedy of Kidd – and perhaps the nation that will be built around him. Kidd is a veteran, but he’s also a hiker. He repeatedly insists that he never went home after the civil war ended. Instead, he just kept moving forward. Coincidentally, Johanna’s family lives near his old homestead and offers Kidd the opportunity to return home to make peace with the past he wanted so badly to give up.
Kidd isn’t the only character who has let go of his past. At some point the two of them stop at one of Ella Gannett’s hotels. Ella runs the house alone after her husband left her to travel west in search of profit. Maybe he found it, maybe not. Whatever happened, he never came home. It is likely that he never looked back either. Under Greengrass’ naturalistic approach to the material, there is something lyrical and poetic about this story. The contrast works effectively.
That said, there are some problems. Like so many westerns News from all over the world reduces his marginalized signs to abstract metaphors to comment on the state of the world rather than developing them into fully formed signs. The displaced Native Americans are only ever seen from a distance and in the distance through the eyes of the settlers. The film is undoubtedly sympathetic to her, but it doesn’t make room for her. (Kidd sums up the situation, “Settlers are killing the Indians to take their land. Indians kill settlers for taking it. “)
Similarly, the film repeatedly alludes to the aftermath of slavery in the south, particularly with the revelation that Joan’s original escort was lynched for being a black man who traveled the region without a white escort. However, there is never any attempt to uncover how Kidd feels about it and whether he still has a bond with him “the cause” in the wake of the conflict. News from all over the world relies on Tom Hanks to add a sense of propriety to the character, but he still feels a little underdeveloped and under-researched.
Still, News from all over the world treats these issues better than comparable films about the aftermath of the civil war such as Jones Free State. Much of this can be attributed to the casting of Hanks, who still embodies an American ideal that anchors the film. Kidd acts like a thoroughly decent soul in an indecent time. Hanks also works very well with his co-star Helena Zengel, who carries many of the movie’s emotional arcs with considerable skill and grace.
That said News from all over the world occasionally feels a little disjointed or uneven. At the beginning of the film, Kidd explains his business to Johanna. There are words on a page and when they are put together they become a story. This emphasis on the importance of stories as a tool to bring people together – and to structure the chaos – is underscored by the episodic nature of something News from all over the world. The film moves from one sequence to another with no sense of escalation or purpose. These episodes are obviously thematically and geographically linked, but also largely separate from one another.
Still, there is a lot to like News from all over the world, which offers an interesting modernist twist, one of the most iconic stories in one of America’s most iconic genres.